- Lisa Her, World Traveler / Photographer
PARIS - Dreams Come True
What a wonderful and fast moving New Year thus far - can you believe it's already February!? Time is just another daily reminder to really savor the moments, soak up the good stuff and start (or continue to) explore the bucket list. Two months ago, I got to exercise my bucket list and check off so many amazing things in PARIS!!! This has been a long awaited dream for me, and everything leading up to the moment we booked our flights to our return home (and even today as I look back at our memories) has been so incredible. It's still like a dream. All I can say is, Paris is so much more magnificent when you personally see it, touch it, smell it, feel it, taste it, imagine it and live it in your own journey. Moreover, I am so grateful I had the chance to experience it - especially with one of the most precious persons in my life, my amazing husband, Thay.
I don't know if Thay was just in a good mood that day he surprised me with, "Let's go to Paris," or maybe he just felt that we really needed a break from all the hard work and upcoming stress of closing down our portrait studio. Perhaps, he finally gave in because I was extremely persistent on traveling to the city of romance. We would always joke about the day we go to Paris, would be the day we would try for another child. So, long story short - the surprise happened on my birthday. Our birthdays are a week apart in November and since this was the first time (in 17 years) we didn't get to spend it together, we decided to take this spontaneous trip to celebrate in Paris, France. We literally decided on which week to travel and booked our flights in less than 30 days. Amazingly, tickets weren't too outrageous and December has to be one of the prettiest times of the year in Paris. This was our first time traveling abroad to Europe so we were super excited about the plane experience. To our surprise, the flight wasn't that long. It only took one connecting flight to DC and then a 7 hour non-stop red eye to Charles de Gaulle Airport.
The moment we set foot into Charles de Gaulle and strolled towards custom and baggage - all you can see are walls and ceilings covered with gorgeous modern interior decor with lines of sophisticated luxury boutiques and designer stores. Thay had to remind me that we didn't come to Paris to shop. LOL!
Once we collected our baggages, it was pretty easy to find transportation. There are several English speaking security officers that direct the crowd to the outdoor area where you can either take the train or cab to the city. We decided to take a cab which was about a 30 - 40 minute ride and costed a flat 62 euros. The cab ride gave us the opportunity to sight see some trademarks along the highway. Our driver was friendly but only accepted cash which we found out at the end of the ride. Good thing we did some cash exchange at our airport. We later learned that using the UBER service would of been half the price. I highly recommend using UBER for all your short and long distant local rides! Which is exactly what we did for the remainder of the trip.
Our first stop was to drop off our luggages so we can start exploring. With the 6 hour time zone change, we arrived to Paris around 8 am and was able to do an early check in. When researching Paris hotels, we weren't sure about where to stay, but we were so glad we ended choosing HOTEL NAPOLEAN PARIS on Friedland Avenue. It is the perfect location to everything. Walking distance to the Champs Elysees strip of restaurants and shopping district which stays lively day and night and feels super safe. We stayed in the Junior Suite and our third floor balcony view overlooked Friedland Avenue and the famous Arc de Triomphe. We loved the beautiful natural light that added to the quaint vintage feel of our French living quarters for the week! The full bathroom and a separate guest bathroom are fully updated with a clean, modern look. We didn't have time to enjoy the bathtub but loved waking up to the ceiling shower head shower.
I always like to unpack immediately and hang up my clothes. We were planning an Eiffel Tower photo shoot the next morning so I had to hang my red dress in the bathroom hoping that the shower steam will straighten out the wrinkles from being squeezed into the luggage. I didn't have enough room to pack a steamer but I do recommend it if you are planning to wear a nice gown during your stay. I didn't bother to ask the Concierge either but they can probably accommodate to your steaming needs. I also like to take out my makeup stash and inspect it to make sure they in good condition. Luckily they all arrived in perfect condition - thanks to heavy duty ziploc bags, bubble wrap and cling wrap! Also, there are outlet adapters / converters you can pick up from the front desk.
Once we got situated and fully charged our phones, we had to step outside to enjoy the fresh French air and this beautiful city! We spotted a cafe across the street and decided to start our morning there. The cafe was small and seating was closely set up. They seemed to be quite busy for a Thursday morning. I didn't see much food on the small little round tables, instead only wine glasses, sparkling water jars and coffee mugs. Which made me wonder, are their food any good? LOL! Yes, indeed! The food was delicious. I ordered an organic fish burger with fries with a cappuccino and wine while the hubbie kept it simple with coffee and milk. The cappuccino blew my mind! It was one of the best I've had. That started my week's craze for French Cappuccinos - and literally anywhere that serves cappuccino is just as delicious! The entire meal cost us about 55 euros (the burger was 20 euros!)
After our quick eat, we walked to the end of the block and saw the craziest traffic circle. Imagine a ten lane round-about with cars coming from all directions. The Arc de Triomphe stands in the middle of about 10 roads (or it seems like it) that meet at this intersection. There are no traffic lights or officer directing traffic. Our cab driver said it's the most dangerous intersection because everyone just fights for the road and the one who is more daring always win. But, everyone yields to each other too which works out magically and throughout the entire time we had to cross this intersection to reach our hotel, we didn't see any accidents! I guess French drivers have it figured out somehow.
Since we could not cross over the crazy traffic circle, we took an underground route to the other side. In that tunnel is also the entrance to climb up and view the overlook from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. There were some local artists selling acrylic / oil paintings and there is where we made our first souvenir purchase. I absolutely love art and supporting artists. I can't wait to mount and frame up these beautiful hand painted Paris inspired artwork.
We strolled a few more blocks to sight see but realized that all the hype was on the other side. So we headed back to the hotel to drop off our souvenirs and geared up for more walking down the Champs Elysees district. I'm so glad I packed a pair of walking shoes! Nightfall temperature during winter season also drops to about 30 degrees (or lower) so definitely pack a warm winter coat, gloves, hats and scarves if you want to stay warm.
The moment you walk to the strip, you see flashing Christmas lights that decorate the street, trees, and lamp posts. The festive lights extend on and on miles away and lead into the Villages de Noel which is a 30 day festival set up of over 200 Christmas eatery and gift markets, and carnival . On the strip, designer stores like Tiffany's, Louis Vuitton, Kate Spade, to stores like Zara and Sephora, gleem in bright inviting storefront light. Boutiques stay open until 10 pm while most restaurants stay open until the last table leaves. The Villages de Noel usually closes around 11 pm so it is the perfect place to enjoy an amusing and tasty walk!
The Champs Elysees area definitely feels safe day or night because there are so many tourists. We never felt like we would get pick pocketed although you do see signs everywhere to beware of pocket pickers.
One thing I did not expect was seeing a lot of homeless people. It was kind of sad because there would be an entire family with small children sleeping out in the cold. Some looked like migrants and others had pets with them. They are not aggressive but once you give a coin to a homeless, the other homeless follows you. I couldn't help it but give a few 1 euro coins to a young boy. I said to myself that I'll give them my leftover food from the next night but I seem to finish all my food every time we dine out because the food is just so good.
Before hitting the Villages de Noel, we had to stop at Brioche Doree for some chocolate croissants! They can heat it up for that extra goodness! I later saw the fruit covered waffles at one of the eateries at the Villages de Noel. By that time I was so stuffed already, but it sure was eye candy!
I've never seen a larger wok than this one! What a great idea to slow cook while giving a pretty and yummy looking presentation! It was also sweet heaven! Macaroons in every flavor, churros, rum cake and chocolate on a stick!
We ended up just snacking off the street food and skipped out on dinner! The chicken gyro was so fulfilling! They also have hot wine - which was my first time trying and loved it! It was just so soothing on a cold Paris night! We sure went back for more every night!
Our wonderful first night ended in the ginormous Big Wheel - this is the world's largest Ferris wheel which stands 70 meters wide! It was definitely a breath-taking view of the Eiffel tower and the city on the tippy top! Someone gets silly when we are high off the ground! Good thing it only went around 2 times.
I woke up super early to pamper myself with a Paris Makeover! Today was our photo shoot so all the beauty details had to be perfect. It has always been my dream to have a romantic photograph with the Eiffel Tower as our backdrop. What is also in my bucket list is to photograph a wedding and engagement session in Paris! This beautiful city is truly a photographer's paradise. Every nook and corner is a stunning backdrop for amazing pictures. I just know that I couldn't leave Paris without getting some professional pictures made. Usually, Thay would be the frugal one and suggest us to set our own shots with the wireless clicker, but I went ahead and booked the photo shoot with the intention that it will be something fun for us to remember by. To my surprise, he enjoyed the session! We are usually behind the camera and it sure felt awkward at times to be in front of it! Nonetheless, we are so thrilled we did the shoot. The pictures turned out beautiful!
We met our photographer, Alexandre, around 9 am that cold Friday morning. I was wearing a custom designed off the shoulder high low dress too so I practically had goose bumps throughout the session. Alex suggested that we meet at that time so there wouldn't be as much tourists - which was a great idea because we were able to shoot comfortably without an audience in front or behind us. With the direction of the sunrise, Alex also suggested that we meet at Bir Hakiem Bridge so we can get a nice shot of the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, that day was a bit foggy so we didn't get much natural hair light in the captures but the overcast was a beautiful soft light.
After we finished our shoot, of course we had to take some of our own shots. The bridge and Parisian buildings yield such a soft color palette for our portrait collection.
We decided to stroll down the corner and grab some breakfast and charge our phones. We loved that our Morphie Powerstation XXL portable USB charger instantly charges our phones. By the time we finished our yummy breakfast, our phones were ready to go! I highly recommend investing in this device - especially if you won't have access to an outlet and love talking selfies and checking up on your social media. We will definitely be taking this on all of our trips! Oh - and get a selfie stick! Best thing ever!
We stopped at this cute cafe called Iolanda Paris located on Quai Branly. We were able to sit out in the heated terrace which made sipping on my cappuccino so much more delightful. Thay ordered the mushroom, cheese and green pepper omelet (Omellete Champignons) while I got the Spaghetti Bolognese with Garlic Bread. Seriously, we thought all omelets and pasta was going to be this delicious but no one was able to top this place! This meal cost about 30 - 40 euros.
We were then going to call UBER to take us back to the hotel but decided to just change into my booties and walk to the Eiffel Tower. I didn't really want to walk in my dress because it had a floor length train but I guess when you're on vacation, you just have to suck it up and enjoy the spontaneous moment! People thought I was a little over dressed and crazy but, hey - we're in Paris, right? LOL!
Here's Thay Pokemon Master. He caught some pretty cool Pokemon!
Here's Thay doing his 007 poses. We see beauty in the most random places - like this dead end street that lead to the Eiffel Tower. We also loved the color tones of this penthouse complex with a gated garden terrace. How wonderful it would be to have a place with the beautiful Eiffel Tower as the view?
Us at the base of the Eiffel Tower. Yes, someone pinch me! I couldn't believe this was happening! To our surprise the line was super fast to admit into the tower area. There were two security lines to check your bags and scan you down. Once you pass security, you can explore the base, climb up the tower using stairs or line up to purchase tickets to ride the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Tickets to ride the elevator were 11 euros. We probably stood in line for about 45 minutes but since it was so cold, it felt like forever!
The tower has two levels on the top where you can walk around and sight see the beautiful panoramic view of Paris and its monuments. The lower level had restrooms and a refreshment area along with souvenir shops. We started on the top level. The clarity was foggy but we still enjoyed the serene view. The soft over cast also create some of the most gorgeous selfies and portrait pictures.
After we left the Eiffel Tower, the stunning building across the street called the Palais de Chaillot was a place we had to see. We strolled across the street passing through a small amusement park with the vintage merry-go-round and crossed a bridge of street vendors. One of them was selling wooden letters choo choo trains. We just had to get it for our little buddy since he is so into trains and vehicles. It was super cute and was just 8 euros. Be careful though, once you give in and purchase something, all the other vendors also target you to get their merchandise.
Once night falls, it gets extremely cold. We thought we could find our way back to the hotel by using the GPS but got lost strolling down some city streets and later decided to go inside a cafe for a cappuccino while we wait for the UBER. Yes, it's always UBER to the rescue - and they are super fast too.
We finally made it to our room and rested a little before heading out again for dinner on the Champs Elysees strip. We decided to go to Cafe George V because the server was very welcoming and greeted us with confidence while we were reviewing their menu at the door. I always like to ask for the server's recommendations so he ordered me a fish entree (which he kindly de-boned for me) and Thay went for steak and eggs. The potato layered cake that came as his side was divine! Dinner's total was about 100 euros.
After our first two days in Paris, we estimated that brunch would typically cost us 50 euros and dinner at 100 euros. I can say it was a pretty accurate estimation, so heads up in case you are a foodie and love to explore beyond comfort food!
After dinner, we walked off the calories to go drink some hot wine at the Villages de Noel. Besides the pretty Christmas lights, we loved window shopping as we pass by the strip of boutiques.
We also love looking at hand crafted art and took some of these hand painted Russian nestling dolls home for our girls.
Day 3 started out with selfies in the beautiful natural light and a quick trip to the corner pharmacie store for some eye drops. We passed by these stellar beasts parked outside of Louis Vuitton. They were available for a daily or hourly lease. Too bad we didn't have our European driver's license!
From there, we got an UBER and enjoyed a 25 minute drive to the Chateau de Versailles. This estate truly takes your breath away when you arrive at the golden gates. There entrance fee to tour the gardens and groves is free but to enter the Palace and Marie Antoinette's Palace costs 2o euros.
The Chateau is remarkable! It is totally worth the time to walk through. We only had a few hours to tour because they closed by sunset so we literally breezed through the palace. This is definitely a place where you will need all day to explore (and take pictures). It is truly heaven for photographers and a great place to find interior decor ideas too.
The gardens occupy majority of the Palace grounds. We were hoping to rent bikes and enjoy a full day of biking but rentals were closed for the season so we rented an electric golf cart instead. A totally great idea for the walk back is a long and cold one. Rental was 30 euros per hour with the option to add additional hours if you go over the initial rental time. We were restricted from using the golf cart at certain areas so we had to walk for a portion of the sight seeing to view the country side and back of Marie Antoinette's hamlet (which we found out was closed for the season). Nonetheless, it was a nice stroll with lots of local joggers and walkers.
One cool thing about the golf cart was it would stop automatically if you were off the designated route. It also has a GPS enabled auto guide so when the golf cart passes through a specific area or landmark, an informative summary would be provided automatically with a nice collection of baroque style music.
We UBERed back to the hotel and was starving since we didn't get to break for lunch! The evening ended up with a light hearty dinner and street food at the Villages de Noel. We enjoyed steak and white sausages with sprinkles of truffle mushroom cooked on the grill as we waited. All we needed was some rice! I also had a Nutella crepe. So delicious when it's freshly made!
Day 4 happened to be the first Sunday of the month so it was free admission at the Musee du Louvre. (General admission is 15 euros) The lines were pretty long but moved as promptly as it could since they check all bags and scanned everyone at the entrance. We waited for about an hour and luckily the sun was bright to keep us somewhat warm. The architecture around the Louvre pyramid also kept my eyes busy as I counted the number of statues along the balcony and roof top of the estate.
Yes, what was I thinking trying to look pretty in a skirt just to meet Mona Lisa. LOL! Good thing majority of the sight seeing was indoors!
Once you get inside the pyramid, it's a mad house. We honestly did not know where to start! We toured the Denon wing where majority of the paintings were. There were painting collections from France, Spain, Northern Europe, Italy and Great Britain. This was also where Mona Lisa was lived so it was very crowded.
One of my favorite pieces from the Louvre is the Winged Victory of Samothrace. This graceful sculpture sits beautifully on top of a staircase leading to the grand hall. Almost everyone that passed by had to stop and take a snapshot of this beauty. I would love a statue like this in my private courtyard someday!
And here is Mona Lisa! To my surprise, photography was allowed so I had to wait my turn to take a selfie with this mystery lady. I couldn't gaze at her for too long when I reached the front line, so I had to enjoy her beauty from the back of the room. She is actually smaller than I envisioned, but remarkable to finally see and check off my bucket list!
I can stand at that one spot and look at paintings all day. There were so much details in this ginormous painting. Such incredible creativity and talent.